For Denver to thrive over the next 20 years, our leaders must not destroy the qualities that make our city an attractive place to live. Denver residents: Take your city back from developers and the city officials beholden to them, now, before it is too late.
The No. 1 complaint among Denver residents I know is that the city is choking in traffic and congestion, and getting worse every year. Denver quickly is becoming another Los Angeles, Phoenix or Atlanta — clogged with too many cars and too many people. And if you visit the mountains to escape the crowds, you get stuck in Interstate 70 traffic jams most of the time.
There’s no mystery why we’re drowning in traffic. Developers and their armies of lobbyists have cozied up to our public officials to shove density down our throats while regular citizens remain voiceless and powerless.
Denver officials have been approving new, oversized developments in quiet residential neighborhoods across the city, from Sloan’s Lake to Observatory Park, from Lowry to Cherry Creek North to Highland. No light rail? No problem. Somehow the transportation gods will provide a solution later.
Does the builder fail to provide parking for the new residents? Don’t worry. People ride bikes in Denver, so builders do not need to provide adequate parking. And isn’t there still some room left to park on city streets, in front of other people’s houses?
The buildings have no or reduced setbacks and tower over the sidewalk? No worries. We need to make sure builders have all the room they need.
The mantra of the Denver City Council, Community Planning and Development Department and the so-called Planning Board is this: The Denver metro area must make room for another million people by 2035. And every neighborhood must do its part to provide for more density, even if it has no mass transit and congested streets and intersections. No thought goes into whether this rapid growth is a good idea, or where all the water will come from for new and existing residents.
You just moved into the neighborhood and relied on existing low-density zoning from the 2010 zoning code update, and read that your area is an “area of stability” in Blueprint Denver? Too bad. We cannot honor those promises. People want to move to Denver and we must make room for all of them.
Case in point: a pending rezoning application for a small, 2.3-acre parcel of land next to Crestmoor Park. The site along Monaco Parkway at East Cedar Avenue now houses a church and is zoned for single-family homes. Developers at Metropolitan Homes in Englewood want to tear down the church and erect a 120-unit, 170-bedroom apartment complex in a neighborhood of single-family homes.
The proposed density far exceeds that of any surrounding neighborhood. Despite overwhelming opposition from the community, the developers went ahead with their purchase and walked out of negotiations with neighbors. They have the audacity to assume Denver “planners” will let them build whatever “product” suits them.
Our leaders are happy to bend over backward for developers and throw residents under the bus. This proposed Denver apartment complex will capture mountain views across Crestmoor Park, a public park. Never mind that the city’s own updated zoning for this site calls for single-family homes, or that the church is historic. Never mind that there is no comparable high-density apartment complex directly along Monaco Parkway anywhere between I-70 on the north and Hampden Avenue on the south.
At a Jan. 21 Planning Board hearing, dozens of residents took time away from work and family and packed a city meeting room from 3 to 9 p.m. and shared thoughtful testimony about how this high-density development will ruin their quiet neighborhood. There’s a preschool directly across the street. The owner and some parents from the center shared their safety concerns, as did members of the Jewish community, who walk nearby streets on the Sabbath when they don’t drive.
The registered neighborhood organizations closest to the site polled nearly 1,000 residents and found between 76 and 96 percent oppose this project.
Allowed just 3 minutes each, citizens gave impassioned testimony late into the evening about why the density, traffic and parking would harm the surrounding Crestmoor neighborhood.
None of that seemed to matter, because the developers think they’ve greased this deal.
Metropolitan hired current Planning Board member Jim Bershof as the property owner representative and contact person on the rezoning application to seek city and board approval for the zoning change. Neither Bershof, the city, nor his colleagues on the Planning Board see any conflict with Bershof’s role.
How did the Hancock-appointed Planning Board vote? All but one member approved it, despite overwhelming neighborhood opposition. Their message: Change is difficult. Denver needs to make room for more density. Our job is not to protect neighborhoods. Every neighborhood must pitch in. Too bad about more traffic on clogged streets and inadequate parking.
And more: We’re not allowed to consider traffic impacts as part of “public health, safety and general welfare” when approving new zoning (after they asked many questions about traffic patterns and justified the zoning change because the building would be located next to a major street). Adding a structure as big as the Monaco wing of George Washington High School on this small parcel is no big deal. And, by the way, we are not bound by the much-touted, glossy new 2010 zoning code.
The subtext: We were appointed by Mayor Hancock and our job is to say “yes” to any developer’s high-density proposal, or say “yes” around 97 percent of the time. We know better than the residents what is best for their neighborhoods. No mass transit? Don’t worry: As congestion gets worse in your area, maybe RTD will improve the bus service.
The rezoning application for the Crestmoor Park parcel is now on a fast-track for City Council approval. Although city planners forgot to give the required mandatory public notice for a Feb. 18 council committee meeting, planners and the council bent the rules to accommodate the developer and were able to maintain the originally planned March 31 public hearing date.
Denver residents: If you don’t agree with where our city leaders are taking us, and if you don’t think we need to destroy the things that make Denver a wonderful place to live, support the candidates for City Council in the May 5 election who oppose these policies. This place is changing fast, and developers see an opportunity now to capture every available lot in Denver to jam in more people and traffic.
It’s time to take our city back.
Greg Kerwin is a Denver native. He is co-chair of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) zoning and planning committee, and is litigation counsel representing a group of East Denver residents suing the city of Denver to challenge the Buckley Annex rezoning process. The views expressed here are based on Kerwin’s experience as a long-time Denver resident, and are not intended to state a position for INC or his law firm.
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